Ranking Disney: #4 – Cinderella (1950)
It was a tough call for me, deciding between Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella for top 5. I went with this for several reasons. First, this is really the princess story in all of Disney. It’s both the first one and the quintessential one.
In terms of being what I consider the “first,” Snow White is great and all, but it’s not really a fairy tale. She meets the dwarfs and almost dies — there’s nothing romantic there. This, though — poor girl, gets her dream to come true for a night, then winds up getting her fairy tale ending anyway — this is the first one to do that. And, when you think of how a typical Disney princess story goes, you think of Cinderella first.
Plus — the songs. Sleeping Beauty doesn’t have any songs. It just really has the one great one. This one has about five great ones. The only real thing Sleeping Beauty has over this is the strength of the animation. This doesn’t look as good as that. But, story-wise, and song-wise — this wins easily. I had to put this one in the top five. (Also, it was actually #5 until two days ago, when I realized that, while I love The Little Mermaid more because I grew up with it — this is just better.)
I couldn’t put this any higher, even though I wish I could. It’s just — the top three are the top three. Still — we know what this is. If you had to pick the top five most classic Disney movies, I’d say the three that would go on everybody’s lists were Snow White, Fantasia and this. (The other two would be up for debate.)
The film begins with a storybook prologue:
“Once upon a time in a faraway land, there was a tiny kingdom, peaceful, prosperous, and rich in romance and tradition. Here in a stately chateau, there lived a widowed gentleman and his little daughter, Cinderella.”
“Although he was a kind and devoted father, and gave his beloved child every luxury and comfort, still he felt she needed a mother’s care. And so he married again, choosing for his second wife a woman of good family with two daughters just Cinderella’s age, by name, Anastasia and Drizella.”
(Note: Disney window shot, the framing of the drapes — classic Disney shot.)
“It was upon the untimely death of this good man, however, that the stepmother’s true nature was revealed. Cold, cruel, and bitterly jealous of Cinderella’s charm and beauty, she was grimly determined to forward the interests of her own two awkward daughters.”
“Thus, as time went by, the chateau fell into disrepair, for the family fortunes were squandered upon the vain and selfish stepsisters while Cinderella was abused, humiliated, and finally forced to become a servant in her own house. And yet, through it all, Cinderella remained ever gentle and kind, for with each dawn she found new hope that someday her dreams of happiness would come true.”
Our story begins with Cinderella waking up – or rather — being woken up by bluebirds. They wake her up from a dream, and she sings “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” which is one of the very best Disney songs ever written (and naturally, not nominated for Best Original Song, because the Academy is fucking insane).
(Note: Disney princess talking to animals.)
And she washes and dresses (with the help of birds and mice). And she talks to the mice, who tell her one of their compadres is stuck in a trap. And she rushes down to free him. And we see that she’s made friends with all the mice, even giving them clothes. Don’t worry, it’s Disney, they can talk, so it’s not creepy.
And she goes downstairs to wake up the family cat – Lucifer – which should tell you something about it. It’s a real asshole. It makes hell for the dog, Bruno, who also can’t stand it, but the dog can’t do anything about it because they’ll kick him out of the house if he does.
We then follow the mice a bit, as they scheme to get outside to get breakfast past Lucifer. The new mouse, Gus ends up getting trapped by the cat on the breakfast trays for the stepmother and Anastasia and Drizella. And there’s a great sequence as the cat follows Cinderella, carrying the trays upstairs, to try to get him.
And one of the sisters ends up finding it, screaming, and blaming it on Cinderella. And she ends up with an exorbitant amount of chores to do as punishment.
And she does them, singing along to herself, until a letter comes, from the king. The king is disappointed that his son is all grown up and as grown away from him, and he wants him to marry and have grandchildren that he can play with. Only the Prince (not named, but always referred to as Prince Charming) has ideas of true love, and the king wants to arrange the marriage. So he sets up a ball where they’ll invite (well, mandate) all the young eligible women in the kingdom, figuring the Prince must be interested in one of them.
Cinderella realizes that means she can go too. And the sisters make fun of the notion that she’d dance with the Prince. But her stepmother says she can go if she finishes all her chores and find something to wear. Fortunately, she has a dress, which was her mother’s, only she has so much work (the stepsisters deliberately give her more to do so she won’t be able to go), it seems doubtful she’ll be able to tailor it in time.
So the mice take it upon themselves to prepare the dress for her. And there’s another scene with them avoiding the cat, as they get buttons and pearls from old dresses the stepsisters toss aside.
And when the time comes to leave for the ball, Cinderella is sad because she can’t go. But then the animals show her that her dress has been finished. But when she goes downstairs to leave, the stepsisters (the little cunts) rip the dress to shreds.
And Cinderella runs outside, crying. And that’s when her Fairy Godmother shows up.
And with her “”Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” spell, she turns a pumpkin into a carriage, the mice into horses, the horse into a driver, the dog into a footman, and Cinderella’s tattered dress into a beautiful blue gown, complete with glass slippers.
Cinderella arrives at the palace in style.
She arrives at the ball (coincidentally just as the Prince is being presented with her stepsisters), and the Prince is immediately smitten by her, and dances a waltz with her.
(Need I point out the films in which they referenced this dance?)
They waltz off into the night, around the castle grounds. It’s very romantic.
And just as they’re about to kiss, the clock strikes midnight, and Cinderella rushes away before the spell breaks. Only, of course, she leaves behind a glass slipper.
And she rushes off into her carriage and makes it away from the palace just before everything turns back into what it was.
She’s a bit upset that it’s all over, but is so glad she was able to have such a perfect night. And the one thing that remains in her possession is the other glass slipper.
The next day, however the Prince decides he must marry the girl whom he danced with, and orders all women in the kingdom to try on the glass slipper.Whomever the slipper fits, that’s who he will marry.
Cinderella, meanwhile, is on cloud nine, humming “So This Is Love” to herself. While Cinderella’s stepmother and Drizella and Anastasia prepare for the arrival of the Grand Duke with the slipper, she (the stepmother), realizes Cinderella was the girl from the ball, and locks her in her room.
(What a great shot.)
The Grand Duke arrives to try the shoes on the stepsisters. He’s exhausted, and quickly falls asleep. But his envoy tries to fit the shoe on the sisters, whose feet are much too big for it. Meanwhile, the mice steal the key to Cinderella’s room from the stepmother’s pocket, and bring it up the stairs to Cinderella’s room. Only, when they get there, Lucifer traps Gus and the key under a coffee cup. And all the mice run out to help, but to no avail. Even the birds join in. But eventually Cinderella sends the birds to get Bruno the dog, and he comes in and scares away the cat.
Cinderella comes downstairs just as the Grand Duke is leaving (and after the stepmother told him there was no other girl inside the house). And as he goes to put the shoe on her foot, the stepmother trips the envoy, and the shoe breaks.
Only Cinderella produces the second slipper, which is placed on her foot, fitting perfectly.
And we cut to the Prince and Cinderella getting married (her losing her slipper on the steps of the palace once again), and the two of them rushing off into a carriage, happily ever after.
This film is very similar to Snow White in many respects. None of the films Disney released since Snow White until this point – Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, and all the package films (Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, Melody Time and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad) – involved a Disney princess. None were also really based on fairy tales, either. So this was a return to origins, of sorts. The stories also have some crossover as well. But the other important thing about the similarities between the two is that this film needed to succeed almost as much as Snow White did. Since the studio, after Bambi, cut back production because of the war. That’s why they released all those package films. It was a way to save money. So now, they really needed a success with this film because the future of their animation department depended on it.
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Official Disney Number: #12
Run Time: 72 minutes
Release Date: March 4, 1950
Budget: $2.9 million
Box Office: ~$85 million domestically
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- “Cinderella,” performed by Chorus
- “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” performed by Ilene Woods
- “Sing, Sweet Nightingale,” performed by Ilene Woods and Rhoda Williams
- “The Work Song,” performed by Mack David, Jerry Livingston and Al Hoffman
- “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” performed by Verna Felton
- “So This Is Love,” performed by Ilene Woods and Mike Douglas
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- The film was nominated for Best Original Song, for “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” (and not even “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” Outrage!), which it lost to “Mona Lisa,” from Captain Carey, U.S.A. (which is a great song, but — it’s more of a Nat King Cole song than a “movie” song, like this is), Best Scoring of a Musical (which it lost to Annie Get Your Gun), and Best Sound (which it lost to All About Eve).
- They never reveal the name of the Prince, nor do they ever refer to him as Prince Charming in the film.
- Ilene Woods beat out 309 other girls for the part of Cinderella. She had no idea she was even auditioning for it. She made a tape of herself singing along to the film’s songs, and her friends sent it into Disney.
- For the third time in studio history, the future of the animation department was dependent on the success of this film. (First was Snow White and the second was — either Dumbo or Bambi. I want to say Bambi.) The war forced them to cut back on production costs, so they released all the package films, and weren’t making lots of money. So after pouring all their resources into this, if this wasn’t a success, the might have shut down the feature animation department entirely. The success of this film (in theaters, plus from record sales and music publishing and merchandise) allowed Disney to open his own distribution company, start making TV shows, and start building Disneyland. (Uh huh.)
- This was the first time they got Tin Pan Alley songwriters to write songs for a film. (This trend would continue for a long time after this.)
- The transformation of the torn dress into the ball gown was considered to be Walt’s favorite piece of animation.
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1. Storybook opening.
2. Animals opening the window. Classic Disney image.
3. Side window shot/Princess in the tower/just like Sword in the Stone.
4. Reminds me of all those spiral stone staircase shots.
5. Love this shot. That’s all.
6. Animals doing chores. Also classic Disney. (Also, lazy white women having animals do all the work.)
7. Bitch be naked.
8. Took me a second to figure out why I had this here. I thought it was about her being like, “Motherfucker, I don’t wanna get up,” but it’s actually the classic Disney framing, though very subtle. See how they put objects around the edges of the frame?
9. Character reflected in bubbles. They do this a lot.
10. Mo’ bubbles. I also like the colors they drop in, adding the element of fantasy to it all.
11.Princess singing out the window. Classic Disney shot.
12. Classic Disney framing.
13. Classic princess running out of the room shot.
14. Object reflected in the water. They also love doing it at this exact vantage point.
15. This castle really looks like the one they use in their current opening. (I think it’s a mixture of this and Sleeping Beauty, right?)
16. This shot is gorgeous.
17. Rich people vs. poor people. I love that juxtaposition. Plus, the town reminds me a lot of all those towns in Disney movies, like in Beauty and the Beast or even Tangled. (Tangled‘s kingdom seems especially designed after this one.)
18. I just really like this shot too.
19. Window shot!
20. Classic framing from inside the carriage. Nice touch.
21. Gorgeous image. Well done.
22. Aww… the happy couple.
23. Characters reflected in the water.
24. Look at that fucking bedroom!